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According to a recent survey by SignHealth, the Deaf health charity, Deaf people’s mental health and ability to access basic healthcare are being seriously and disproportionately impacted by measures taken to combat the pandemic.

“We are very concerned that 35% of deaf respondents indicated that the pandemic has had a major negative impact on their mental health and 61% highlighting anxiety as what has impacted them most.” – Christopher Reid, Director of Operations at SignHealth.

The pulse survey conducted by SignHealth in September highlights the ongoing challenges faced by the Deaf community during the pandemic and the inadequate support received from the government.

Deaf people severely impacted by the pandemic

Research conducted in 2005 by the Department of Health showed Deaf people are 1.6 times as likely to experience poor mental health such as depression, anxiety or low self-esteem compared to hearing people. In 2014 SignHealth conducted research that revealed significant health inequalities including higher rates of misdiagnosis, poor treatment and barriers to access NHS services.

This pulse survey of 93 deaf people showed that these problems have been exacerbated during the pandemic, with very little additional help being provided by the government.

Key figures:

  • 74% percent of the deaf people who responded said they have found it more difficult to access healthcare
  • 36% have had trouble accessing medication
  • 89% of respondents were worried about being able to communicate with staff if they are hospitalised with coronavirus
  • 62% highlight not being able to communicate with people wearing masks in public as a major challenge, because they would be unable to lipread or use facial cues
  • 80% indicated social isolation as a major issue since lockdowns began

“SignHealth already provides a range of services across England that support Deaf people’s mental health but these survey results show us that much more needs to be done. We are calling on government to provide an in-person BSL Interpreter at Coronavirus briefings, and we appeal to all providers of health services to meet their obligations under the Accessible Information Standard and the Equality Act. At SignHealth we are developing more research into Deaf mental health and we will continue to work closely with other Deaf organisations so that together we can make a difference.” – Rebecca Mansell, Director of Communications and Fundraising at SignHealth.

Clear lack of government support

“I work in a hospital and have been unable to work due to the unavailability of clear masks…it’s felt like the government hadn’t even thought about us Deaf people and lacked understanding in our need to lip-read and see faces” – Survey respondent.

It is clear from the survey that the Deaf respondents have not felt recognised by the government during the pandemic and that information has not been adequately available in an accessible format. In fact, 78% of survey respondents said that they found the coronavirus information shared by the government either partly or completely inaccessible.

SignHealth is frustrated by the lack of Coronavirus information in BSL and has taken it upon themselves to fill the gaps in provision. They have created 2-minute summary videos in BSL of the Downing Street Daily Briefings and key announcements. To date they have created more than 100 videos, which have helped Deaf people stay up to date with news and rule changes related to the pandemic. Ninety six percent of survey respondents have found these videos helpful and SignHealth believe that this in turn has contributed to the high number of Deaf people who say they have followed the government’s coronavirus restrictions.

In response to the crisis, SignHealth set up BSL Health Access with InterpreterNow, providing a video relay interpreting service, free and universally available, 24 hours a day, for communication with Deaf people in health settings, funded by their reserves.

James Watson-O’Neill, SignHealth’s Chief Executive, said: “I am so proud of the work that we have done at SignHealth to step up during the pandemic, particularly the launch of BSL Health Access. Many deaf people and deaf charities have been working tirelessly and we stand shoulder to shoulder with them as we work together to support our community.”

Conclusion

SignHealth will continue to support the Deaf community any way they can during the pandemic and afterwards. However, fundraising income is at an all-time low and unexpected costs related to coronavirus have severely impacted their projected budget. Further support from the government is required to support SignHealth and other third sector organisations as they continue to plug the gaps in provision for the Deaf community.

It is World Mental Health Day on 10th October and SignHealth believes that this year’s theme, ‘Mental Health for All: Greater Investment, Greater Access’, provides the ideal opportunity to highlight the issues faced by Deaf people. SignHealth wants to ensure access improves and that Deaf people with mental health challenges are sufficiently supported during the pandemic and beyond.

Contact: For any queries please contact: Rebecca Mansell, Director of Fundraising and Communications at SignHealth – rmansell@signhealth.org.uk

Notes to editors

Additional quote

“I feel that SignHealth has a massive role to play both in offering information, social and community support and counselling to Deaf people and raising awareness of the impact to government and the general public. Please keep up your good work” – Deaf survey respondent.

About SignHealth

SignHealth is here to improve the health and wellbeing of Deaf people We are a passionate and caring Deaf-led charity that partners with the NHS and other service providers to support Deaf people across the UK. We are one of the UK’s largest employers of Deaf people, and most hearing staff in our projects and services are fluent sign language users. We are working towards a future where there are no barriers to good health and wellbeing for Deaf people.

SignHealth are able to support Deaf people through their national IAPT psychological therapy service and accept self-referrals or referrals from GPs.

Support in the midst of the crisis

SignHealth has taken on new activities and services to ensure we can support the health and wellbeing of Deaf people under the shadow of a global pandemic.

Our Coronavirus Response

Coronavirus Updates

Watch, share and download the latest COVID-19 information and guidance available in BSL.